The Casper Coyotes hockey team -- and not a minor league professional squad -- will play at the Casper Events Center next season, according to hockey advocates.
About two months ago, a group of interested investors went to Boise to evaluate an available franchise, but the franchise cost $1.5 million. It would require another $1 million in annual salary to field a team. The expenses, combined with Casper’s small market, spurred the group to go in a different direction, Peter Wold said.
The Events Center ice opened Dec. 13. The Wold family donated $1 million to the $2.9 million project. The city had hopes of attracting a minor league hockey team to the Oil City.
City Manager John Patterson was disappointed Tuesday that the investment team couldn't bring a minor league hockey team to Casper. Patterson anticipated the city grossing $825,000 a season under terms drafted during one of the aborted attempts to bring a franchise to the city. The new ice sheet would be paid off within three to five years, Patterson told the Star-Tribune in June 2014.
Now, he's not so sure.
"I know these are business people, and I know they did the best they could do, and this is the best alternative we can enjoy at this point in time," Patterson said. "I just hope it proves the case that we are a hockey town, that hockey is a profitable business venture, and (a minor league) team will come in the future."
He hoped attendance would be high enough to provide a profit to the Events Center, but added that no one knows whether that will happen.
Hockey boosters are optimistic about the move for the Coyotes.
“The Coyote team here was successful even at the ice arena, so that team is going to be really, phenomenally successful (at the Events Center)” Wold said.
“I think the community is going to get behind it.”
Wold praised the Coyotes’ inaugural season. The team clinched its division and reached the Western States Hockey League finals, but fell to Ogden in a three-game series, 2-1.
The WSHL is a junior-level league made up of players primarily between the ages of 16 and 20. It is one of three junior leagues sanctioned by the Amateur Athletic Union and the three-year-old United Hockey Union. Most of the leagues in the U.S. are sanctioned by another group, USA Hockey.
About 2,000 people attended the first Coyotes hockey game on the Events Center’s new sheet of ice, team owner Chad Parrish said. He expects more marketing and promotions will feed excitement for the team. At least half of next season’s 26 home games will be played at the Events Center, he said. The 2016-17 season is expected to be played entirely at the Events Center.
“We’re working the deal right now,” Parrish said. “The visibility for the team and the experience for people coming to the game will be … better.”
Parrish hopes to draw between 2,000 and 4,000 fans to each game. Some games at the Casper Ice Arena drew capacity crowds of about 750. About 550 people attended on average, Parrish said.
More fans means more exposure from players, and Parrish hopes to use that as a draw to recruit more overseas talent for the team.